Fan Forum Q and A from Mazda Raceway
Gill Campbell, CEO and General Manager of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Steve Johnson, President of Champ Car
Kevin Kalkhoven, Co-owner of Champ Car
Question: "It's been 3 years since the Champ Cars competed here at Laguna Seca. Please talk about the improvements that have been made."
Gill Campbell: "We've spent $10.5 M on safety improvements. We tore down the old media center, built the Red Bull Energy Center for hospitality, and built announcer booths. This is a world class facility ranking in the top ten worldwide. But we are a third class spectator facility and trying to improve that."
Steve Johnson (opening remarks): "I have placed a bounty of $5,000 offered to the first driver who breaks the F1 Toyota recent practice record of 1:06.309 second lap." (Champ Cars were within 0.3 second from Friday's test times; Bourdais earned the honors with about 5 minutes of practice left on Saturday afternoon with a time of 1:05. 88 seconds. Kalkhoven had a photo op with a handful of money - cash paying Seb the $5,000).
"More announcements are coming soon for teams. There will be a number in the next two weeks. This season we are going to give you the best racing you've ever seen. We expect to see a lot of side-by-side racing excitement all year."
Kevin Kalkhoven's opening remarks: "There have been ups and downs the last couple of months. The down was when I was in Antarctica for a period of time at a research station. The up is I have a young Red Bull driver, Neel Jani, that has been very fast in testing. And we have our brand new Panoz DP 01 car."
"With our new car we have the opportunity to demonstrate how to put on great racing and very close racing. The car is designed by a US manufacturer. It costs $1/2 M and could beat a $20M Toyota today."
"Thank you to all the fans for coming (about 80 people showed up for the 30 min. fan forum from 11:00 - 11:30 AM on Saturday held in the garages in pit lane). We wanted to come back to Laguna Seca so fans could see the teams testing."
Question: "I've been coming here for 50 years. If I win the lottery, how many millions will it take to get Champ Car back to race at Laguna Seca?"
Kalkhoven "It's not about the money. Laguna Seca is a world class facility. We've developed in motorsports over the last few years. People expect an easy experience at race tracks. That's why we have the downtown venues. The last time we raced here at Laguna we had only 11,000 people, The guys paying the bills are our sponsors.
Question: "Will Champ Car return to race in England?"
Kalkhoven: "We are trying to provide American style racing in North American. An example is Paul Tracy's combative style."
"We have a lot of interest in our type of racing in Europe. There are a lot of countries that are tired of whomever wins the pole, wins the race. We could race again in the United Kingdom. But we want to evolve more races in North America."
Question: "A fan expressed that racing at Sears Point (Infineon Speedway) or Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway is a much greater fan experience in that the fans can see a lot more racing than at a track like San Jose."
Kalkhoven: "I believe we can deliver strong fans in San Jose, so it's not inconceivable that Gill and I can work out a way to attract fans to Laguna Seca."
Question: "Isn't it cheaper to race at a track like Laguna Seca than a street course in San Jose?"
Kalkhoven "Sponsors want to race where they can see value for their money. We love this track and that is why we came back here to test. Maybe we can build the fan experience out of San Jose to come to Laguna Seca for a different style of racing."
Question: "Is there a plan to use the same car and engine so that there could be a future open wheel merger?"
Kalkhoven: "We don't run on a lot of ovals. We wanted to design a car for close and exciting racing on road courses. We wanted a car that was really fast, really fast. I don't think you'll find as fine a car as the Panoz DP01 built by Elan Motorsport Technologies in the U.S offering incredibly close and exciting racing at an affordable price."
Question: "NASCAR fans travel a great distance to attend races. Is the Champ Car product the issue for Laguna Seca because when the Moto GP is here there are well over 100,000 people."
Steve Johnson: "NASCAR kicked our butts from a marketing side about 10 years ago. We need to bring sponsors in that activate and promote our series. We need to get the youth of America educated about what road racing is. We've lost a generation of fans. We have to educate what we are all about."
Question: "It seems that some of the Champ Car teams are running only one car and are merging with another team. What about the car count?
Kalkhoven: "Relax! We'll be just fine in Las Vegas. Certain reports that say Forsythe is not running a second car isn't true. We have a new two-car team in Pacific Coast Motorsports who joined us from ALMS and Grand Am. We have other teams going to join us. Our teams have all had the expense of buying new cars this year."
Question: "What about standing starts for the first race in Las Vegas?"
Kalkhoven: "Our drivers do three standing starts in a race … called pit stops. You could see Paul Tracy doing perfect standing start from the pits and then he stalled on the track. I doubt we'll use standing starts for Las Vegas. To enhance the fans experience we want to introduce standing starts but we have some software issues to work out."
"We will have standing start practice today and it's endless entertainment. We'll get it right."
Question: "What about the month of May being open … will there be more testing?"
Steve Johnson: "We've talked to the teams about having more rookie test days. We do have planned some PR activities in Europe during May and perhaps some testing. We have three races in April, the first two on NBC and then Houston on ESPN. Then we disappear for a number of weeks."
Question: "What's happened to the diversity of Champ Car … are you going to reintroduce ovals?"
Kalkhoven: "We decided with our new chassis that it needed to be designed to run on ovals and superspeedways. Unfortunately, a mistake on an oval is fairly expensive. Any time you have an accident on an oval it's usually goodbye car. We can't risk losing half a dozen cars. There isn't time to manufacturer new ones."
Question: "What about Mont Tremblant? Is it safe to book my airline tickets?"
Steve Johnson: "We didn't choose to leave Montreal. The decision was made by the promoter. When Bobby Rahal found out we were going there he was excited because Mont Tremblant is his all time favorite track. The owner of Cirque du Soleil is partners with Lawrence Stroll who owns Mont Tremblant. Our race will be on Canada Day. They are already promoting it. And, we've told the people in Montreal we haven't given up about racing there."
"All our U.S. dates, Mexico City and Australia are fine. China may move to the week before or after Australia depending on the FIA. This will help with the expenses and avoid two 15-hour flights for our teams and participants. Having them back to back is much more economical for the promoters and teams."
(And as the fan forum ended one gentleman asked the 80 or so people there who were in favor of one open wheel series, a merger, and only about 10 hands went up if that many. Also Jonathan Bomarito joined the last few minutes of the Fan Forum and talked about racing in the Atlantics and his hope to win the championship this year and take the $2M to move up to Champ Car. Kalkhoven restated how the goal is to bring in more American drivers into Champ Car).